What? … errr … Excuse me?

June 6, 2012

By Bill Duggan

My teenage daughters still need constant reminders that the reply, “What?” to a question or comment that they need repeated or didn’t fully hear/understand is rude and unacceptable.   

“Excuse me?” is better.  “Excuse me, Mrs. Jones?” is best.

While we continue to fight this battle at home, I am increasingly aware of similar behavior in the business world. In the last week alone (a) a job candidate responded, “What?” to a colleague not once, but twice in an interview; (b) a new staffer on my team did the same to me in a member meeting; and (c) a retail clerk answered, “What?” to an initial question I posed.

With employees becoming an increasingly important touch point between marketers and the customer, the marketing community needs to remind employees of this proper, incredibly basic protocol.  A Ritz Carlton employee would never reply, “What?” to a customer question.  But this happens every day at other businesses, particularly with in-person interaction.  For some reason, we have better manners on the phone!  It happens with the retail sales associate, waiter/waitress, fast food cashier, etc., etc.  You can accuse me of being a bit old fashion, but “What?” is a bit rude and disrespectful.

Customers often form opinions and make judgments about companies based on interactions with a single employee.  I had a very positive experience last week with USAA when making a change to my auto insurance policy.  The associate on the phone was courteous, respectful, and helpful.  I already had a very positive opinion about the company before the call and it was enhanced by my experience with the associate during the call.  Like Ritz Carlton, USAA has an emphasis on customer service. 

So spread the word to your employees and teenagers – it’s always “Excuse me?” and never “What??”

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